Education, Textbooks, and War Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Military veterans and officers instruct soldiers how to fight effectively in combat.


Military veterans and officers instruct soldiers how to fight effectively in combat. Lessons often include lectures or textbook assignments describing military history and exercises to enhance physical strength and agility and acquire skills with weapons. Military education emphasizes discipline and organization to achieve warfare goals. Nonmilitary schools incorporate warfare discussion in curricula for varying objectives. While some educators tell pupils facts, other teachers present versions to satisfy government requirements. In the early twenty-first century, some military historians shifted from institutional studies of how specific military academies, service branches, and governments educated troops to examining warfare’s role in diverse cultures, people’s perceptions of war, and educational depictions influencing them.Education, militaryMilitary educationTextbooks;militaryEducation, militaryMilitary educationTextbooks;military


Education provides credentials for soldiers to advance professionally within the military. Academic accomplishments reinforce peers’ and subordinates’ respect for officers’ authority. Military histories educate commanders to make decisions such as when to go to war, continue fighting, or withdraw forces. Textbooks, intended for either military personnel or school-age students, deliver narratives designed to achieve specific goals. While military textbooks train soldiers, many school history textbooks emphasize positive aspects and ignore controversial topics. Some educational resources misrepresent military history intentionally with rhetoric and propaganda to promote nationalism. Ideas presented by textbooks shape how students view warfare and influence their attitudes toward their country’s military forces–motivating them, for example, to consider serving as adults.

History of Texts, Education, and War

Throughout history, boys participated in games and activities such as hunting as a form of early military training. Formal educational experiences prepared soldiers and officers for warfare. Handbooks and instructional guides provided information soldiers needed to perform their duties and respond to wartime demands. Some military schools incorporated military history and theory into lectures and assigned books, often written by instructors and veterans, for cadets to study. Troops bonded by sharing training, rituals, and sacrifices. Warfare impacted people according to the historic period and geographical region in which they lived and how essential military power was for their leaders to secure control. Civilians’ comprehension of history and awareness of military books and tacticians’ concepts often shaped cultural responses to warfare.

As social ideas regarding childhood changed, educational opportunities for children expanded in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many schools used textbooks that featured notable military figures, battles, and wars. Lessons often emphasized military role models and successes from ancient times through contemporary events to encourage children to be patriotic citizens and feel pride for their country. Discussion of atrocities and defeats was often omitted or dismissed as irrelevant. Publishers, authors, and educators exhibited varying degrees of accountability regarding textbooks’ role in educating children about warfare.

Ancient World

Historians consider Art of War, The (Sunzi) SunziSunzi’s Sunzi Bingfa (c. fifth-third century b.c.e. ; The Art of War, 1910) to be the first known military text. Initially available in ancient Chinese territories, this work influenced contemporary military and political leaders and extended its impact through time, continuing to shape warfare in the twenty-first century. Sunzi (Sun Tzu; c. 544-c. 496 b.c.e. ), whose identity many historians question, emphasized the role of warfare in maintaining effective governments to prevent their failure and submission to other powers. The text, no matter who wrote it, contains universal principles that have been appropriated in warfare for centuries since it was written. In ancient China, Qin emperor Shi Huang credited The Art of War for tactics to conclude military strife during the Warring States period. Translations expanded the influence of The Art of War to diverse cultures and commanders in other eras. Many modern U.S. military school curricula adopted The Art of War as a strategy textbook.

A Tangut script of Sunzi’s Art of War (c. 510 b.c.e.), one of the oldest texts on military theory.

Ancient military narratives influenced Alexander the GreatAlexander the GreatAlexander the Great (356-323 b.c.e.) of Macedonia and empowered him as a general. His father, King Philip II of MacedonPhilip II of Macedon[Philip 02 of Macedon]Philip II, arranged Alexander’s military training, ordering teachers to instruct his son in horsemanship and weaponry. Philip secured philosopher AristotleAristotleAristotle’s services as Alexander’s academic tutor. Aristotle’s lessons encouraged discussion of historic events, including battles. Aristotle gave Alexander a copy of the Iliad (Homer) Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e. ; English translation, 1611), by Greek poet Homer, with annotations he had added. The Iliad shaped Alexander’s view of warfare. Fascinated by Homer’s depiction of the Trojan War (c. 1200-1100 b.c.e.) Trojan War (c. 1200-1100 b.c.e. ), Alexander admired the protagonist, Achilles, from whom Alexander believed he was descended, and aspired to achieve similar triumphs. Alexander possibly also read military accounts by historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and others describing actions during the fifth century b.c.e. Peloponnesian War and Persian Wars.

Those texts influenced how Alexander responded to his early military actions and envisioned his responsibilities as a leader, planning logistics and organizing personnel at the Chaeronea, Battle of (338 b.c.e.)Battle of Chaeronea (338 b.c.e.). Alexander trained his soldiers much the way his father had, instructing troops regarding battle formations and how to use pikes, swords, and other weapons. He emphasized drills to prepare his warriors, many of whom engaged in training to fulfill requirements demanded of citizens, for potential battlefield situations and reinforce discipline. When Alexander’s army reached such Trojan War battle sites as Troy in 334 b.c.e., Alexander, whose copy of the Iliad accompanied him on military campaigns, paid tribute to the warriors who had fought at those sites and visited Achilles’ tomb.

Other ancient military handbooks influenced contemporaries’ perception of war. Many ancient people were constantly confronted with warfare and its obligations and incentives, such as assuring citizenship through service. Britannia governor Frontinus, Sextus JuliusFrontinus, Sextus JuliusSextus Julius Frontinus (35-c. 103 c.e.) wrote Strategematicon (Frontinus) Strategematicon libri iii (late 80’s c.e. ; Strategematicon: Or, Greek and Roman Anecdotes, Concerning Military Policy, and the Science of War, 1811), which shaped commanders’ ideas on the deployment of military troops. ArrianArrian (Roman historian) Arrian (c. 89-155 c.e. ), noted in Tactica (Arrian) Tactica (c. 136/137; on tactics) that the Romans had adapted some military moves from the Celts. In the late fourth century, Vegetius Renatus, FlaviusVegetius Renatus, Flavius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (fl. fourth century), a Roman finance minister, compiled the most enduring ancient military handbook, Military Institutions of the Romans, The (Vegetius) De re militari (Vegetius) Epitoma rei militaris (c. 384-389 c.e. ; The Military Institutions of the Romans, 1767), usually referred to as De re militari, which he created to instruct military and government leaders. Historians lack proof that Vegetius’s handbook affected how ancient commanders conducted warfare, but it became part of the medieval military canon.

Medieval World

Army and naval commanders during the Middle Ages were aware of books written by ancient military historians and tacticians. Vegetius’s De re militari was a frequently mentioned ancient text in medieval military histories and often was copied for military and political figures. Literate medieval people read De re militari because it provided access to Roman thought and concepts. Roman military information intrigued medieval readers curious about ancient warfare and its possible applications to their military needs. Contemporary sagas, such as the Lay of Igor’s Host, The Slovo o polku Igoreve Slovo o polku Igoreve (c. 1187; The Lay of Igor’s Host, 1902), revealed that medieval people had contrasting cultures regarding warfare; during the Middle Ages, people were motivated to fight by different factors, including honor, glory, dutifulness to rulers, chivalric expectations, and religious beliefs.

Some copyists revised ancient handbooks to meet conditions in their location and time. Freculph, bishop of Lisieux (fl. ninth century), gave his edited copy of Vegetius’s handbook to Charles the Bald, stating that it could help military leaders form effective fighting techniques to resist Viking attacks in the mid-ninth century. By the thirteenth century, a French translation of Vegetius’s handbook was distributed. In the fifteenth century, craftspersons used the printing press to produce copies of De re militari. Various histories stated that notable medieval commanders took copies of Vegetius’s handbook into battle, but no evidence verifies that they applied this guide in combat.

About 856, King Lothair II commissioned Rabanus MaurusRabanus MaurusRabanus Maurus (c. 780-856), a scholar and church leader, to appropriate Vegetius’s work to write a revised handbook entitled Recapitulatio (Rabanus) Recapitulatio (recapitulation). Rabanus selected text that was relevant to medieval warfare, including such topics as weaponry, strategies, and tactics. Other medieval military handbooks included one credited to Mauricius, Flavius TiberiusMauricius, Flavius Tiberius Strategikon (Mauricius) Emperor Maurice (Flavius Tiberius Mauricius, c. 539-602) entitled Strategikon (Maurice’s Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy, 1984), which was distributed around the year 600. The Frankish count Nithard (790?-844), whose grandfather was Charlemagne, wrote Historiae (Nithard) Historiae, or De dissensionibus filiorum Ludovici pii (c. 843; on the dissensions of the sons of Louis the Pious), in which he described military training and drills for Carolingian horse soldiers. Students might have had access to these handbooks at military schools, especially at the Carolingian monastery, Saint-Riquier, where milites (soldiers) associated with the royal family lived and trained. Despite references to Vegetius, Rhabanus, and other military theorists in histories, sources are unclear on whether medieval military officers actually read those books and utilized their concepts in warfare.

Contemporary reception of Art of War, The (Machiavelli) Dell’arte della guerra (1521; The Art of War, 1560) by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), is better known. Machiavelli, who served the Florence government as a secretary, modeled his book on De re militari, copied some of Vegetius’s concepts, and discussed such medieval figures as Francesco Sforza and Cesare Borgia. Many of Machiavelli’s contemporaries were more familiar with those of his works that focused on politics, but The Art of War generated greater immediate impact than its medieval predecessors by shaping Florence’s military organization and warfare objectives. Machiavelli’s treatist suggested that using citizens instead of mercenaries as soldiers could educate the populace about warfare’s realities, develop civic values, and reinforce people’s commitment to serve. Machiavelli stated that personal involvement with warfare would unify populations and prepare citizens to defend their government loyally and unconditionally, unlike foreigners hired to fight. Many scholars emphasize that Machiavelli’s The Art of War introduced modern concepts relevant to military theory and practice.

Modern World

The United States Military Academy, looking north along the Hudson River.

(Courtesy, USMA Public Affairs Office)

By the nineteenth century, warfare had begun a transition which Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) addressed in his book On War (Clausewitz) Vom Kriege (1832; On War, 1873). Clausewitz stressed the role of government policies in shaping warfare. Notable officers who stated that they had applied Clausewitz’s concepts to their military strategies include Moltke, Helmuth vonMoltke, Helmuth von Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891). Although many British and American military leaders criticized Clausewitz, the Vietnam War (1961-1975) altered resistance to Clausewitz’s theories as commanders realized how governments’ decisions affected military performance. At the U.S. Army War College, Colonel Summers, HarrySummers, Harry On Strategy (Summers) Harry Summers conducted a Clausewitz study and published On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (1982). Many military colleges incorporated On War into their curricula.

Critics and supporters wrote articles and books examining, and often misinterpreting, Clausewitz’s works. Sir Liddell Hart, Basil HenryLiddell Hart, Basil HenryBasil Henry Liddell Hart (1895-1970) was one of Clausewitz’s most vocal critics. He denounced Clausewitz for promoting total war, which Liddell Hart thought had shaped World War I commanders’ actions and caused high casualties. Liddell Hart urged armies to become mechanized with tanks. Some historians credited Liddell Hart’s writings with inspiring German officers, including Erwin Rommel, to create Blitzkreig tactics. Liddell Hart emphasized the need for more historical warfare studies in educational curricula in his Why Don’t We Learn from History? (Liddell Hart) Why Don’t We Learn from History? (1944).

Before World War I, some U.S. educators wanted high school boys to receive military instruction that would condition them physically and mentally for war and to provide their communities security. Teachers belonging to the American School Peace LeagueAmerican School Peace League spoke against that training. Those pacifists were mostly successful in preventing mandatory military education in U.S. schools, but many countries prepared their students educationally for potential warfare roles.

After World War II, the Japanese Ministry of Education told educators to ink out military sections in textbooks to appease U.S. occupation forces. The Supreme Command for the Allied Powers (SCAP) required new Textbooks;JapaneseJapanese textbooks written by professional historians to replace educational resources deemed to be unsuitable. In 1946, historian Ienaga, SaburōIenaga, SaburōSaburō Ienaga (1913-2002) wrote Shin Nihonshi (Ienaga) Shin Nihonshi (1947; new Japanese history), which emphasized themes of democracy, pacifism, and truth. His book Pacific War, The (Ienaga) Taiheiyō sensō (1968; The Pacific War: World War II and the Japanese, 1931-1945, 1978) acknowledged Japan’s war crimes in Nanjing, China.

Basic cadets salute during their first reveille formation at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

(Courtesy, U.S. Air Force Public Affairs)

During the 1950’s, Japan’s education ministry rejected books it considered contrary to values they wanted Japanese children to acquire, including Ienaga’s books (unless he would agree to revise them). By the mid-1960’s, Ienaga initiated litigation against the ministry, stating its textbook selection was unlawful. He complained that the ministry had insisted he revise discussion of Japan’s military aggression against China, Korea, and the Philippines. In the 1990’s, Tokyo University education professor Fujioka, NobukatsuFujioka, NobukatsuNobukatsu Fujioka publicly endorsed textbooks that glorified and often embellished Japanese history and excluded historical figures and events he considered negative.

Japan’s supreme court affirmed the ministry’s textbook selection as constitutional in 1997 but stated that all revision demands should be compatible with historical scholarship. Fujioka established the Japanese Institute for Orthodox History EducationAtarashii Rekishi Kyōkasho o TsukurukaiAtarashii Rekishi Kyōkasho o Tsukurukai (Japanese Institute for Orthodox History Education), which produced a textbook incompatible with historical facts. The ministry’s approval of that textbook provoked criticism throughout Asia. Numerous Japanese historians and educators stated that it inaccurately perpetuated myths and included flawed

interpretations. Most Japanese school districts refused to use it. Historians worldwide voiced concerns about textbooks presenting military history responsibly to students.Education, militaryMilitary educationTextbooks;military

Books and Articles
  • Bassford, Christopher. Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America, 1815-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Interprets responses to Clausewitz’s ideas and how changing public attitudes toward warfare influenced reactions to his writing.
  • Hein, Laura, and Mark Selden, eds. Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2000. Essays analyze textbook depictions of wars, events, and national histories, including provocative images often omitted.
  • Lindaman, Dana, and Kyle Ward. History Lessons: How Textbooks From Around the World Portray U.S. History. New York: The New Press, 2004. Excerpts present varied perspectives and distortions about warfare from educational material used in diverse countries’ schools.
  • McNeilly, Mark. Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Applies Sunzi’s tactical principles to discussion of significant historic battles and commanders, comparing those ideas with other military strategists’ concepts.
  • Nicolle, David. Armies of Medieval Russia, 750-1250. Illustrated by Angus McBride. Men-at-Arms Series 333. New York: Osprey, 1999. Explores reasons soldiers fought, with cultural references to warfare. Illustrations feature contemporary images.
  • Zeiger, Susan. “The Schoolhouse vs. the Armory: U.S. Teachers and the Campaign Against Militarism in the Schools, 1914-1918.” Journal of Women’s History 15, no. 2 (Summer, 2003): 150-179. Examines attempts to incorporate military education into mainstream curricula in context with issues associated with warfare.

Civilian Labor and Warfare


Paramilitary Organizations

The Press and War


Revolt, Rebellion, and Insurgency

War’s Impact on Economies

Women, Children, and War

Categories: History